31 March 2011


In a wake of new legislation, Detroit teachers’ union worry about the unmanaged changes proposed to the public schools.
The state-appointed manager of Detroit Public Schools identified 45 schools in the struggling district that could be turned over to private charter operators in a bid to improve student performance.
Wednesday's release of the target list comes as the manager, Robert Bobb, heads into a new round of talks with unions, armed with broad new authority to reopen labor contracts, cut costs and dictate curriculum.
Since his appointment more than two years ago, Mr. Bobb's efforts to stabilize the district's finances and bolster its academics have faced resistance from teachers unions and the school board. Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder changed all of that earlier this month, when he signed into law expanded powers for Mr. Bobb and other financial managers appointed to take over struggling cities and schools.
A Wayne County judge who earlier ruled that Mr. Bobb had improperly exerted control over academics stayed her order in light of the new legislation. School board President Anthony Adams stood behind Mr. Bobb's plan for charters. Mr. Bobb had already gained state approval for a last-resort plan to eliminate the deficit by 2014. It called for closing as many as half the district's 142 schools.
Detroit, whose population fell 25% in the past decade, according to the 2010 census, has seen an even faster exodus from its schools, with students fleeing to charter schools and the suburbs, and taking state funding with them. The district's deficit has grown to $327 million from $218 million when he arrived.
Under Wednesday's modified plan, 14 schools will close by 2012 and another 45 are charter candidates. Of these, 18 have been marked for closure or conversion to charter schools as early as this fall; the other 27 will stay open, but could be converted to charters if a plan is approved to lease the school buildings from the district.
The charters are expected to employ nonunion teachers at least initially, but unions could later try to organize their staff.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bobb is bringing his beefed-up powers to negotiations with unions to help close an estimated $100 million shortfall for next year. Under the strengthened financial-manager law, union contracts, which were cut a little more than a year ago and supposed to be in place for three years, could be slashed again by Mr. Bobb, with approval from the state treasurer.
The Detroit teacher’s union members are in an uproar. They are requesting a meeting to discuss cuts that could be devastating to their members.

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